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New Sensor Technology Looks at Molecular 'Fingerprint' 113

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the that's-profiling-and-profiling-is-wrong dept.
New sensor technology developed by engineers at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory can now detect chemical, biological, nuclear, and explosive materials much more quickly and efficiently. From the article: "The millimeter/terahertz technology detects the energy levels of a molecule as it rotates. The frequency distribution of this energy provides a unique and reproducible spectral pattern - its 'fingerprint' - that identifies the material. The technology can also be used in its imaging modality - ranging from concealed weapons to medical applications such as tumor detection."
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New Sensor Technology Looks at Molecular 'Fingerprint'

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  • by HappyClown (668699) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @01:26PM (#15388204)
    I wonder if this technology is similar to what (might) be being used here:
    Mystery Robot [nationalgeographic.com]
    • I highly doubt it... (Score:3, Informative)

      by cr0sh (43134)
      First off, take a look at that "robot" again (the picture in the NGEO article). Does that look like any kind of "research robot" you have ever seen? At best, it looks like something an amateur robotics experimenter might build, from a variety of parts picked up from various locations.

      Ordinarily, I wouldn't discount such robotics. Over the years, many great things have been done in robotics using COTS "junk" and such by such amateurs. Unfortunately, this whole thing seems to scream "scam" to me. Those transd

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This sounds like the sort of technology that is woefully expensive to implement. It's one thing to be functionally applicable for such uses, but it's completely different to be financially viable.

    Would this technology ever actually make it to the security checks at an airport, for instance? Does it offer a clear financial benefit over existing solutions?

  • Not new at all? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nasor (690345) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @01:29PM (#15388220)
    Um...rotational spectroscopy is not new at all. It's been around for a very long time - at least 50 years, probably longer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotational_spectrosco py [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:Not new at all? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ergo98 (9391) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @01:40PM (#15388284) Homepage Journal
      Um...rotational spectroscopy is not new at all. It's been around for a very long time - at least 50 years, probably longer.

      Maybe you should read the article first. The breakthrough is the extreme degree of sensitivity, coupled with the fact that it's doing the analysis passively (versus targeting molecules with lasers/microwaves).
      • Re:Not new at all? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nasor (690345)
        The passive sensing is also not new. You can find journal articles about it going back at least 3-4 years; I don't have any off hand, but if you have access to a scientific journal database you can probably find them pretty quickly.

        I don't recall the sensitivity of the technique given in the other articles that are out there, but then there isn't any hard data on sensitivity in this "article" either; just a reference to getting within 10 ppm in one particular test. Since they don't give the concentration
      • Technologies that were formerly infeasible or unreliable frequently take on new life as the sweeping wave of information technology washes by.

        Thus, an ancient, esoteric, expensive, and minimally useful technology (rotational spectroscopy) is suddenly viable as a new, privacy-piercing technology.

        Which brings me to my point: Are we going to sit back and watch our freedoms erode due to the lack of the basic privacy we've taken for granted for so long, or are we going to restructure our society so that we can p [wired.com]
      • Re:Not new at all? (Score:2, Informative)

        by 7ft_Big_Guy (972070)
        It's old technology on a new level... Basically it's MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MR Spectroscopy is probably 40-50 years old, and has been getting into smaller and smaller packages over the years... With new methodologies of Integrated Circuit manufacturing, more sensitive and noise resistant receivers can be built. I's kind of like radar... you have a sample (person, luggage, test tube with chemicals in it etc) and pass it thru a magnetic field... as it passes thru the field, you send a radio freq
        • You're confused about how this works; it's not like an MRI or NMR where a magnetic field creates energy states for different orientations of the atom's magnetic fields. This just induces rotational transitions in the molecules.
          • In NMR, the magnetic field doesn't create anything... it aligns the axes of all the atoms spins so they are all in the same direction... the RF pulse knocks them out of alignment with each other, and as they re-align, they generate a pulse of RF back. (IE the RF pulse generates rotational transitions in the aligned atoms). I worked with MRI and NMR for almost 20 years.
            • I worked with MRI and NMR for almost 20 years.

              Then you shouldn't be confusing them with molecular vibrational spectroscopy. The article clearly states that this technology is looking at molecular rotational energy levels intermediate between infrared and microwave.

    • all the RS work I ever did or saw was in the infrared, this seems longer wavelength, high portion of microwave
    • What happens if you cool something? Less thermal energy, less vibration, less fingerprint?
      • No, cooling it shouldn't matter; it would probably actually get easier to take a spectra of a cool sample because there would be less "noise" from vibrations.
  • iran? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ganjadude (952775)
    From TFA:

    "We can use this technology to detect chemical and biological agents and also to determine if a country is using its nuclear reactors to produce material for nuclear weapons or to track the direction of a chemical or radioactive plume to evacuate an area," explained Paul Raptis, section manager. Raptis is developing these sensors with Argonne engineers Sami Gopalsami, Sasan Bakhtiari and Hual-Te Chien.

    It seems as if this is good news, the ability to decide if they really are WMD's or just a
    • So you give some credence to Iran's claims that its nuclear program is just for power generation? I don't, for two reasons:

      1) Thanks to oil, Iran is just about the most energy-rich country in the world. No other energy source will come close to the cost-effectiveness of simply sticking a spigot into the ground.
      2) A country would almost have to be crazy to not want a nuclear arsenal. In a conflict, nukes easily make the difference between entering a negotiation among peers (of a sort), and getting inva

      • 2) A country would almost have to be crazy to not want a nuclear arsenal. In a conflict, nukes easily make the difference between entering a negotiation among peers (of a sort), and getting invaded. In a world where Pakistan has the Bomb, where do you stand if you do not? (And don't bring up countries like Japan; they do have a nuclear program and could make nuclear weapons almost at a whim, and already have powerful nuke-armed allies).

        A Nuke is easy to make. A delivery method is much harder. Japan could n
        • A delivery method is much harder.
          They're called ships, and they float on the ocean, or if attacking a land locked country use an airplane.
          • A delivery method is much harder.

            They're called ships, and they float on the ocean, or if attacking a land locked country use an airplane


            Which is very limiting as you'd get at most 1 shot with this delivery method. Same for Air. If you didn't already have air dominance you are then gambling on these methods. Also their fairly slow methods. The coast gaurd / air traffic control and air defence would also run a significant chance of intercepting any traffic that isn't normal and a disguised ship will only wor
            • And exactly how many times to you figure you can get away with launching nuclear weapons from an icbm?!?

              In fact a ship or plane seems infinately more likely/logical...pretty damn tough to say that big missle hole in the ground is NOT yours or belongs to a rogue group!
              • And exactly how many times to you figure you can get away with launching nuclear weapons from an icbm?!?

                In fact a ship or plane seems infinately more likely/logical...pretty damn tough to say that big missle hole in the ground is NOT yours or belongs to a rogue group!


                Since one MIRV ICBM can theoretically hit every major city on any given continent and since missle silos are fairly hard to detect and can be build virtually anywhere you can hit as often you can build them and you can build them in advance. As
                • Check your Math: MOAB - weight 21,000 pounds ~ 11.5 tons Hiroshima yield = 14.5 kilatons of TNT. Since the MOAB is purely a chemical reaction, you cannot believe that the explosives of the MOAB are 1000 times more explosive than TNT! Also MOAB's don't give you a nice EMP or radioactive fallout, so they aren't as effective. A quickly build japanese nuclear device will take weeks of logistic work, time and travel, to mount a single attack which there after cannot be repeated. Right, b/c international trade wi
                  • Check your Math: MOAB - weight 21,000 pounds ~ 11.5 tons Hiroshima yield = 14.5 kilatons of TNT. Since the MOAB is purely a chemical reaction, you cannot believe that the explosives of the MOAB are 1000 times more explosive than TNT! Also MOAB's don't give you a nice EMP or radioactive fallout, so they aren't as effective. A quickly build japanese nuclear device will take weeks of logistic work, time and travel, to mount a single attack which there after cannot be repeated. Right, b/c international trade wi
        • A Nuke is easy to make. A delivery method is much harder. Japan could not fabricate this at whim. It would take 2-3 years to contruct test and assemble then 5 years to make a delivery vehicle that could get it off japanese soil...
          That's not how it went down it WWII.
          • A Nuke is easy to make. A delivery method is much harder. Japan could not fabricate this at whim. It would take 2-3 years to contruct test and assemble then 5 years to make a delivery vehicle that could get it off japanese soil...

            That's not how it went down it WWII.


            The US already had air supuriority. They could have done the same damage with convention weapons since they owned the skies.
  • But without any mobility of the device, this just wont work. Sure, it can detect if anything is amiss in a radius of 600 meters, but beyond that, it would be pretty expensive to implement in all major areas of the US.

    Of course, I would feel pretty good seeing one at airports.
    • I'd bet that ports, be they of the air or water variety (and maybe border crossings), are going to be the major place that this is useful. High-security buildings may get this kind of thing too.
  • Radioactive plumes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sssmashy (612587) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @01:35PM (#15388255)
    To remotely detect radiation from nuclear accidents or reactor operations, Argonne researchers are testing millimeter-wave radars and developing models to detect and interpret radiation-induced effects in air that cause radar reflection and scattering. Preliminary results of tests, in collaboration with AOZT Finn-Trade of St. Peterspurg, Russia, with instruments located 9 km from a nuclear power plant showed clear differences between when the plant was operating and when it was idling. This technology can also be applied to mapping plumes from nuclear radiation releases.

    I was under the impression that properly functioning nuclear power plants shouldn't be releasing any kind of radiation into the air while operating, let alone enough radiocative plumes detectable from 9 km away. Then again, it is a Russian nuclear power plant, and Russians seem to have a much more relaxed attitude about that kind of thing.

    • Russians seem to have a much more relaxed attitude about that kind of thing.

      I, for one, welcome our new three-headed Russion overlords.

    • They still release some radiation, but presumably not enough to cause harm to nearby plants or animals. Even coal burning plants release radioactive material into the air, generally more than nuke plants from what I understand.
    • I was under the impression that properly functioning nuclear power plants shouldn't be releasing any kind of radiation into the air

      Considering even coal plants do [google.com], I am not surprised.

    • When was the last time you have seen something that always properly functions. When something goes wrong they flood the reactor. They have to vent the gas at the top so that they completely flood the chamber. It does create a radio active plume, but it is mild compared to a complete meltdown.
    • by iamlucky13 (795185)
      A properly operating power plant does not release any radioactive particles. There is still gamma radiation through the sides walls of the reactor. This is typically less than the background radiation from other sources. The fact that it is measurable is more a testament to the sensitivy of the instruments than the radiation level. It has been said that you receive more radiation watching TV for an hour each day than you do living a mile from a nuclear plant (what wavelengths is another question, though). A
      • A properly operating power plant does not release any radioactive particles.

        It does produce neutrinos, which should count as radioactive particles, despite very low interaction rates. These are remotely detectable. For example, the Kamland [stanford.edu] experiment measures neutrinos from multiple reactors across Japan and neighboring countries.
    • Your combining two sentences. They weren't detecting radioactive plumes they were detecting that the plant was operating at that distance, and then on another topic they could use it to map radioactive plumes if something goes boom.
  • Sniff, then Peek (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196)
    If that tech really works as simply as that, then we should immediately have laws to protect our privacy, while offering security. Like requiring the imaging be allowed only when the material detection shows an illegal, controlled substance - like anthrax or uranium. A strict list of controlled substances, with contingencies for substances with "dual use" (legal as well as illegal) should allow imaging of legal objects to stop the intrusions.
    • Re:Sniff, then Peek (Score:2, Informative)

      by pla (258480)
      when the material detection shows an illegal, controlled substance - like anthrax or uranium

      Uranium, in itself, does not count as a "controlled" substance. You can, legally, go online and buy anything from uranium metal to large quantities of ore samples MUCH "hotter" than you should ever spend much time near.

      However, although you might poison yourself, you can't actually use those (in any realistic quantity) to build an explosive device.

      Now, enriched uranium, plutonium, and very-hot fissile byprodu
    • The government should regulate our ability to use reflected energy to identify and examine objects.
      • The government already protects our efforts to shield ourselves from people shining extra energy through covering expected to protect our privacy. New laws specifiying that these new energies are just as regulated as the old ones will protect us better.

        Especially from people making artifically broad and vague descriptions of the privacy invasion in order to justify them.
        • "Especially from people making artifically broad and vague descriptions of the privacy invasion in order to justify them." In the interest of clarity, what privacy invasion do I describe vaguely? The only vaguely described privacy invasion here is in somebody finding out what the molecular properties of my personal property are. How is that analogous to listening devices?
          • "The government should regulate our ability to use reflected energy to identify and examine objects."

            You describe the privacy invasion when people shine a special artificial light through a usually opaque barrier so vaguely that you're also describing the practice of looking at anything that's not just emitting its own light. To say the government should regulate seeing is obviously sarcastic, obviously saying that the government shouldn't regulate this THz imaging.

            As for an analogy to listening devices, wh
        • I seem to remember a case a few years ago where a man was convicted on growing weed in an outbuilding on a farm. It seems that the building had no windows, but the police used infrared imaging technology to detect the heat of the plant lights inside the building, so they could, in affect, 'see' through the walls.

          Upon appeal, the court noted that, like light rays penetrating a window, (and police can raid a place based upon something in "plain sight") infrared rays, since they extend beyond the boundaries o
          • Actually, I seem to remember that case, or one like it based on infrared scopes through a shaded (in visible spectrum only) window, was resolved recently in favor of the person who expected privacy. They were reasonable to expect it because the emission wasn't general knowledge. I'm not sure that has changed since then, or how a given judge's own "reasonable expectations" influence this kind of analysis.

            But THz imaging doesn't use reflected ambient light, or light generated by the material owned/controlled
  • Sensor? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Mr.Scamp (974300)
    When you look into the display of this device does it cast a soft blue glow on your face?
  • Great (Score:1, Troll)

    So now they'll justify full body scans at the airport as merely part of a Cancer Reviewing Awareness Program.
  • Since the farthest this appears to work is 600 meters (for nuclear devices) an enterprising terrorist will now have to include a trigger that senses T-ray frequencies and detonates.

    Something more passive, or functional from greater distances, might be safer for the operator... Otherwise you will need an expensive robot.

    • RTFA: "with instruments located 9 km from a nuclear power plant ..."

      That's a bit farther than 600 meters!
    • FTFA:
      Identified chemicals related to defense applications, including nuclear weapons, from 600 meters away using passive sensing at the Nevada Test Site.

      Passive, as in detecting THz radiation naturally emitted from a target, not projecting THz radiation at the taget you were refering to. That is, unless said enterprising terrorist builds a trigger that goes off whence it detects the THz radiation emitted by his/her bomb. We could only be so lucky.
  • you can get the fingerprint of every type of material in the known universe and use it for lots of different applications from hunting for gold and other metals, to finding the optimum soil conditions for growing vegetables, to finding cancer in humans (maybe - i hope)

    i can see lots of good this can do...

    Star Treck - sounds like the tricorder device Spock used to use analizing the local environment when they land on some strange planet...
  • Looks similar to NIR (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This teqnique looks similar to Near-InfraRed spectroscopy, or may be that's it - the article does not give any details. Nothing really new - you need to collect "fingerprints" from pure substances first and then you can identify it in a mixture.Wikipedia articles of interest:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_infrared [wikipedia.org] and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemometrics [wikipedia.org].
    • If the wavelength is in the millimeter range, then this is actually an example of far-infrared spectroscopy- it's on the (arbitrary) border between infrared and microwaves. At this range, as the article notes, the spectrum is generated by absorption and emission of radiation caused by molecular rotations. In contrast, mid-range IR spectra is based on molecular vibration- bends and stretches of the bonds between atoms- and near IR is based on overtones of vibrations.

      One issue with far-infrared spec is th

  • by karrot (785000)
    Isn't this what the Tricoder from Star Trek did?
    • Isn't this what the Tricoder from Star Trek did?

      It is in the same realm of that technology, but, it still cannot predict if the planet's women were hot enough to be 'Kirk-worthy.'
  • We have walk-through drug screening as you walk into work? As with the concerns about RFID chips in passports and other devices, I am concerned about remote sensing of personal information (and that includes your internal biochemistry) without adequte protection of informed consent. And, no, I don't trust the government. Why should I?
    • You're talking about 2 different things; that is, unless you "work" for the government.
      • >You're talking about 2 different things; that is, unless you "work" for the government.

        1. I do. About 60 hours per week.
        2. Other places of employment have screening devices at their entrance.
        3. Some private enterprises have been known to provide data to the government without having been served with a subpoena. I'd provide links, but I can't imagine anyone who reads /. would need one for this.
        4. Many government buildings, often called "public places", have screening at their entrances. (e.g. courthouses,
  • TFA gives a couple of weird things:

    1) they have a picture 9 km away, from ABOVE, of a nuclear plant taken with the imager. So, is it hooked up to a satellite, or a very high-flying plane?

    2) I have a method that can detect a running nuclear plant from miles away - it's called "look". If I "look" and steam is coming out of the cooling towers, then it's running!
  • by Malc (1751) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @02:09PM (#15388444)
    Nitroglycerine was detected on their hands and they were imprisoned on this "evidence". One of them died in prison before the conviction was quashed.

    The application of these technologies needs to be used carefully, especially they are far more sensitive than the technologies employed in the 70s. Perhaps good for screening, but we must careful in trusting them when it comes to the courts.
  • If it works out then goodbye surprise car bombs, land mines, and explosive belts.

    Make it work and i'll buy you a Coke :)
  • Scanners....I love Star Trek.

    passively scanning poison gas at 60 meters and getting it right, that is sci-fi.
  • by Acy James Stapp (1005) on Tuesday May 23, 2006 @03:16PM (#15388890)
    I can rest assured that this technology will only be used to catch terrorists and certainly never to infringe on my constitutionally protected right to be secure in my person, house, papers, and effects. Unless I'm at an airport. Or a public street. Or looking suspicious. Or sitting in my house.
  • Soon the RIAA won't need dogs to sniff out those evil dvd's..
  • Crap joke. (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    So it's a kind of Eye Of Argonne ?
  • In an unrelated story, television psychic Miss Cleo has died and come back reincarnated in robotic form. Film at 11.
  • Is this similar in principle to TRIMprob by Galileo Avionica [wired.com]?

    The baton houses an antenna that produces microwaves that vary in frequency from 400 MHz to 1,350 MHz. When the microwaves hit a tumor, the tumor resonates at about 400 MHz, producing a signal that interferes with the original signal from the baton. [...] Information on this interference is sent to a computer that uses a set of algorithms to translate the information into a readable image.

    (TRIMprob stands for Tissue Resonance InterferoMeter Probe)

  • I'm really tired of always hearing how something can be used for anti-terror this, national security that. THz spectroscopy is an impressive (relatively) new technique with applications for drug analysis, food chemistry, pollution detection, health assessment and just about any chemical or biochemical sensing you care to mention.

    Yeah, I know they must hype it this way in the press releases to get their crumb from the DHS quadrillion-dollar table, but I'd really like to see some greater perspective every n

  • by vuo (156163)
    They have created the radar equivalent of the widely used IR spectroscopy. There is a technique for an isolated, single sample - IR spectroscopy - which requires you to dissolve the sample in a solvent and place it on a salt crystal. The new technology gives this literally new dimensions - two, as you can see should you RTFA, by using terahertz frequencies. Terahertz frequencies are difficult to generate experimentally and their behavior is largely unknown to science, unlike IR (can be created by a lamp) or
  • I commented on this article in response to another's comment regarding the Chilean Robot that he thought might work this way - both mine and his comments were modded up (+3), but neither appear in this thread anymore - anyone know what is going on, or has an idea? Weird...

    FWIW, here is a link to this missing thread [slashdot.org]...

  • Raptis is developing these sensors with Argonne engineers Sami Gopalsami, Sasan Bakhtiari and Hual-Te Chien.

    These are Indian, Iranian, and Chinese family names.

    I hope that everyone recognizes that this contribution to the national security of the United States was probably made by recent immigrants.

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